Moonlight

 

Chapter 7

 

Fanni was not in yet, having worked the greater part of the night, so Ian did not know what to do. He had other things to supervise, naturally, but he did not feel like it at the moment. He went home to catch a few more hours of sleep. His nephews were giving the hall a new coat of paint -- pale yellow, with darker yellow around the doors and windows. Ian winced. He really could not see any yellow at the moment, not after his failure to keep that dreadful yellow clown arrested. "Must it be that awful colour?" he grumbled.

 

"You got a hangover, Uncle Ian?" one of the boys said sympathetically. "But I didn't think the walls are that bright."

 

"No. I'm going to bed." He walked on and searched for Meri, but she was out. She had probably gone to the beach -- it was a good day for that. "Where's Meri?" he returned to ask the painting boys.

 

"I saw her leave from my window."

 

"Did she go to the beach?"

 

"I don't think so. She didn't take anything with her."

 

He went to bed, feeling too tired to wonder about Meri. His nephews continued painting, raising their eyebrows at their uncle's strange behaviour. He was not usually this edgy in the morning, but there was probably a reason for it. They had finished most of the hall when a woman in a light blue uniform showed up. "I've come to see the Commander," she told them.

 

"He's in bed." This was always a good test to separate the good from the bad intentions.

 

"In bed?" the woman echoed in amazement. It was not like the Commander to be in bed during the day. "Is he ill?"

 

"We don't know."

 

"There was a message at the office that he wanted to talk to me about last night's arrest, but if he's in bed..." her voice trailed off uncertainly.

 

The boys realised this was a business visit, or she would not have hesitated so upon hearing Ian was in bed. Vyzona would have barged right through and thought this was a golden opportunity, although they had never heard reports of her doing so. However, Timo and Jaran liked to fantasise about what riot Vyzona would create if she did, assuming that Ian would protest, something they were not entirely sure of. "Can we help?" Timo offered at last when the woman remained indecisive.

 

"If you could see if he's awake...?"

 

"Sure." Timo went to check and found Ian staring out of his window. "There's a woman in the hall..." he began.

 

"Aren't there always women in the hall?" Ian replied, not turning his head.

 

"I think she works for you."

 

"Oh," Ian turned his head. It had to be Fanni. He needed to talk to her, so he followed Timo. "Ah, Fanni. You didn't notice the colour of her hair, by any chance?" he asked her urgently as soon as he saw her.

 

Fanni looked a little startled. "Ciara's, you mean?"

 

"Yes," he said impatiently. "Tell me what you noticed about her."

 

The boys looked on in interest.  Ciara? Why did Uncle Ian have an interest in Ciara? Had she been the arrest the woman had mentioned earlier? The arrest she had been requested to see him about? Why would they have arrested Ciara?

 

"I didn't see her clothes. I only saw her face after she'd washed it. Quite pretty, I thought. About thirty-five, I'd say."

 

"Thirty-six," Ian corrected without thinking, drawing suspicious looks from his nephews. "Hair?"

 

Fanni shook her head. "She asked for a hairbrush, but she didn't take her hood off. However, going by her face and eyes, I'd say..." she twisted her mouth in reflection. "...not blonde and not too dark. Medium."

 

"Could it have been red?"

 

Fanni tried to recall Ciara's face. "The lashes were dark and the skin wasn't very pale. Brown hair is more likely. Her lashes or hair might have been dyed, though," she suggested.

 

"Dyed?" Ian repeated and sighed at the idea. He really was not getting anywhere.

 

"Meaning I couldn't possibly give you an accurate description. Next time, sir, it would be better to restrain her physically," Fanni suggested innocently. She had surmised that Ian was more than a little unnerved by Ciara's escape and her behaviour. But she had liked Ciara, even though Ian had scolded her for allowing her to escape.

 

Ian scowled at her. "Next time will be today."

 

"Oh, sir!" Fanni remembered something and unwrapped the bundle she was carrying. "She left her cloak behind."

 

The nephews snickered when they saw the cloak was yellow. "Must it be that awful colour, Fanni?" Jaran said to save Ian the trouble.

 

"That's Chief Inspector Fanni to you," she told him, not daring to share the joke at the expense of her superior in front of his face, although last night she had got an inkling that the Commander was not too fond of yellow, which was rather funny now that she saw that his hall was being painted in the same colour. Either he had no authority in his own house -- which would be an interesting idea -- or he had only recently acquired a dislike for yellow, presumably last night -- which was also an interesting idea.

 

Ian gave the snickering boys a withering glare that caused them to burst into laughter as they ran off into another part of the house. "No expenses spared," he said as he took over the cloak and ran his fingers over the smooth, cool fabric. Were there any pockets? Yes, there were. He beckoned for Fanni to follow him and spread out the cloak on the kitchen table. Slowly he extracted a few items from the pockets and lay them on the table. "What have we here?"

 

A thin booklet, containing prayers or formulas.

 

A necklace, pretty similar to the one that was stolen.

 

A matchbox, battered and dented, containing six unused matches and two used ones.

 

A small mirror, round.

 

He stared at the objects. They were not odd for a priestess to carry and so told him nothing. "What do you say, Fanni?"

 

"I say nothing," Fanni said wisely, picking up the book. "Loads of clichés --" she stopped suddenly, glancing at Ian in case she had overstepped her boundaries.

 

He looked distracted. "She's too clever by half. Probably took anything interesting with her." He took the book from her and leafed through it, staring at the first page in particular. "Dear daughter -- live wisely and with care," he read aloud. "Follow your conscience rather than rules." He closed the book with a snap. "No wonder she's such a hindrance!" he exclaimed in dismay. "If her mother told her to ignore the rules! No wonder the two of them are a pair of thieves!"

 

Fanni took back the book and read the words herself. "Intriguing," she commented. The words were written all the way at the bottom of the inside cover. She looked at the inside of the back cover. "Forgive me for my decision when you're old enough to realise you were too young to take one yourself. That's what we do to our daughters because we love them." "What's that, sir?"

 

Ian read it. "I have no idea. Her mother probably followed her conscience," he said sarcastically. "By getting her daughter to become a priestess and a thief?"

 

 


Ian had gone back to his office with Fanni, discussing what they should do with the cloak and the objects. It was best to keep them, as a kind of bait, in case Ciara would come for them. He did not think she would be that stupid, but what else was he supposed to do? If he took them to the temple, someone would take them from him and he would not see Ciara at all.

 

They entered the building and were delayed by a crowd of people. "Hey, Ian," said a vague friend. "I finally saw that wife you keep so well hidden. Lovely woman."

 

Ian stared at him. The man did not know him very well, that was true, but surely the man had to know there was no wife? "Wife?" he managed to say, aware that everyone around was listening eagerly.

 

"Yes, your wife," the man looked puzzled.

 

"I don't -- I don't have a wife."

 

Even more ears were pricked up now at this bold admission. Never before had anyone received so much insight into the Commander's home situation.

 

"Oh." His acquaintance frowned. "I thought because she was chatting with your daughter and all...she had red hair. Doesn't sound familiar?"

 

Ian's face changed colour. "Red hair?" he asked ominously. "Red?" That woman was corrupting his daughter? How had she ever found Meri? He was ready to burst from anger and worry. "With my daughter?" he nearly shouted.

 

Everyone wondered who the redhead in question was, Fanni in particular. This was too much of a coincidence, Ian looking for a redhead and then Meri being seen with one. Who was she?

 

"Where?" Ian demanded. "Was she using force on Meri?"

 

"Luko's Cake Shop," said the baffled man, but he could not finish answering, because Ian had run out of the building. "Is his wife insane or something that he gets so upset when she escapes? She looked pretty alright to me. She's got to be insane. Why else would he have to lock up a pretty woman like that?"

 

"So that's why he has us searching for redheads," an officer realised slowly. "She's probably dangerous when she's on the loose."

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Ian hurried to Luko's Cake Shop. Fortunately he knew where it was, but he had never been inside. It was more a place for women, he thought, who had been shopping and who needed a break. Its tables were usually occupied and this moment was not an exception. Mid-morning was rush hour for cakes and it was very crowded. Ian entered and glanced around the light-brown wooden tables, staying in the doorway so nobody could flee. It looked as if nobody wanted to -- everyone kept on chatting. He did not see Meri, nor any redheads. Had she taken Meri? He had to know and he walked over to the bar, which was situated in the middle. There he noticed that he had overlooked a part of the shop. He would look there later, but first he had to ask a question. "Did you see a red-haired woman in here?" he asked the girl behind the bar.

 

"Could be," the girl replied, obviously too busy to pay much attention to him.

 

"With a girl?"

 

"Sir, we get a lot of customers in here and most of them women. Do you mind?" she shoved him aside to pick up a tray from one of the tables. Free tables had to be cleared as soon as possible for new customers.

 

It was indeed full of women and he realised that she would not have seen much if she was only concentrating on whether tables were emptying or not, but you never knew. "Are you sure?" he asked when she returned. "You can't be getting a lot of eighteen-year old girls with thirty-six-year old women with red hair."

 

"You'd be surprised at what we get," said the waitress, but finally she seemed to have a little spare time. "Is your redhead a regular?" She only remembered regulars and really odd people anyway.

 

"I don't know." She might be, if she had taken Meri here, because he was not sure if Meri had ever been here. "Do you have regulars with red hair?"

 

"Yes, one who usually comes with her mum."

 

Ian's attention sharpened. It could be Ciara, with the older redhead the market salesman had talked about -- the one he had not wanted to believe in. "What do they do in here?"

 

"Eat cake and chat, like any normal people who come in here," the waitress said accusingly, implying that he was not normal.

 

"How often does she come here?"

 

"Almost every week."

 

"And did you see her with a younger girl?" Ian asked. If he could not find Ciara, then it was worth a try to catch her here some time.

 

"Yes. Maybe her younger sister," the waitress shrugged, taking another order just when Ian could not have her attention elsewhere.

 

"My daughter," he said, to catch her attention. "I'm asking you because I have to find my daughter."

 

The girl thought about it. "What's her name?" She thought that was a very clever question of hers, to find out if this man was really the girl's father. He could say yes to any name she mentioned.

 

Did that mean she had actually seen them? Were they perhaps still here? "Meri."

 

The waitress nodded. "That's right," she said as if Ian did not know that. "Through that archway and then under the painting in the corner."

 

"What's there?" he asked. It was the part he had overlooked. It figured that she had to be sitting there.

 

"Your daughter." She turned to prepare the order.

 

Ian peered around the corner and looked at the table under the bright painting. It was the only table that was occupied in that small area. Other people had not discovered it yet, seemingly. He saw Meri and she saw him, freezing in place. Her companion had her back turned towards him and all he could see was dark red hair falling loosely down her neck. Rather roughly he slid onto the bench beside her, so she could not run away, being pinned between him and the wall. He got a fleeting impression of a pair of startled light brown eyes before they were cast down and her head turned abruptly. Meri was looking at him in fear. "What are you doing here?" he demanded angrily, trying to mask the relief he felt to see her safe and sound.

 

"She was eating cake with me," his neighbour said in the same lightly mocking voice he had heard the night before. "Do you always reprimand your daughter for being social?"

 

"Don't you interfere," he snapped. That voice was really getting to him, but it was good of her to betray her identity with it. "I'm really going to arrest you this time. Let's go." With a quick movement he handcuffed her.

 

"There was no need to do that," she said with deceptive sweetness. "Isn't it so that all women are dying to come with you?"

 

"But from what I recall you were dying to get away from me," he replied coolly. "Come Meri."

 

"I haven't paid yet," Ciara remarked.

 

"Meri, pay."

 

Meri paid and followed them. How had her father known where to find them? Someone must have told him. And Ciara was not even upset. She seemed amused, even though she was getting arrested. Ciara had not told her anything, but she knew Ciara could not be a criminal.

 

Ian led Ciara along less frequented streets. He would not like to run into anybody he knew, because they would wonder why he was handcuffed to a woman. She followed obediently, but he was not fooled. Now and then there was enough reluctance to let him know she was an independent creature. A glance over his shoulder told him Meri had disappeared. With Ciara safely attached to him, she could not have got anything to do with that. Meri must have thought he was angry. Anyway, it was better not to take Ciara to the headquarters, but to take her home, since Meri had the key to the handcuffs. Lovely. Why was every woman irritating him today? "Where did you send my daughter off to?" he asked.

 

She wanted to say it was her daughter too, but she did not. "Of course it has to be my fault that she runs off because you behave like an absolute boor."

 

"I don't."

 

"You always do."

 

"You don't know me." Ian wished he would not let himself be drawn into such a stupid discussion.

 

"I can guess how you treat her."

 

"You can't."

 

"I saw it."

 

"That's only what I do when she's been under the influence of a criminal."

 

Ciara only realised that she had jerked away her hand in protest or shock when the handcuff was restraining it from going too far away from his. "Is she often?" He could not mean that Meri was that sort of girl. Not with an Ian looking on, surely!

 

"Never before you." Ian noticed with interest that she seemed to resent being called a criminal. Perhaps that meant that she was not as bad as she seemed.

 

"How criminal am I?" she inquired.

 

"You're a thief."

 

"Of what?" She was genuinely surprised. She had expected him to call her a swindler of the people, a charlatan, a witch, anything but a thief.

 

"Of objects belonging to the temple."

 

He might have understood why if he had only looked her in the face and recognised her, but he had not done that, she thought with bitterness. Suddenly she did not feel very good about herself either. What had she done, all those years ago?

 

The big house in the leafy neighbourhood was attractive and certainly worth the long walk through the side streets and alleys. She was sure they could easily have taken the tram if he had not been afraid that she would protest in public. But this was not where he worked. This was where he lived. Why did he take her here? The entrance hall smelled of fresh paint and she liked the bareness of the pale yellow hall, with only a few big plants on the floor. She could not be liking his house and she told herself not to, saying it was probably Meri who had done this.

 

"Is that a criminal, Uncle Ian?" cried a boy who suddenly appeared. He stared at them curiously.

 

"Yes," Ian grumbled.

 

"Why are you taking her here?"

 

Ian ignored the question. "Where's Meri? Meeeeeeeri?" He had taken such a circuitous route that Meri would have come home long ago if she had gone straight home.

 

"Yes, she's making dinner," said the boy.

 

Ian stormed to the kitchen, eliciting a yelp of pain from Ciara, who was suddenly pulled along with him. One was reminded off the handcuffs at the most fortunate moments, she thought, wondering why they could not be unlocked. "Mind me!" So he lived here with a nephew as well, did he? Or was it another result of one of his adventures?

 

"Meri, give me the key," Ian demanded.

 

"I gave it to Aunt Ania," Meri said fearfully, stirring a pan. Or rather, Aunt Ania had asked for it, wanting a bit of fun.

 

"Where's Ania?"

 

"Out," Meri barely dared to speak up.

 

"So nobody can unlock us?" Ian held up his wrist with the handcuff.

 

Ciara looked horrified. "Don't tell me I'm forever linked to this boor? Meri!" she pleaded. "Commander, take me to a locksmith." But the mention of an aunt relieved her for some reason she could not fathom. Perhaps it was just that she did not like her daughter to have a father who -- what was she thinking? It need not be a real aunt. She was much too naive.

 

"And have everyone know?" he sneered. "Why did you give it to Ania?" He knew Ania would have wanted it. It was just the sort of thing she got kicks out of.

 

Meri shrugged.

 

"I have to use the toilet," Ciara announced unexpectedly. She hoped Meri would produce the key or Ania out of pity, but Meri seemed to have spoken the truth. She did not have it anymore and Ania was out. "Bloody fool," Ciara muttered to Ian. "Why did you have to give it to her in the first place?"

 

"I was afraid you'd pick my pockets, free yourself and run away from me," he answered.

 

"You overestimate me."

 

"I'm sure I don't. You wouldn't stay with me out of your own free will and I'd never be able to solve the case of the missing necklace."

 

"It's correct that I wouldn't stay with you, but I don't pick pockets. I'm not a criminal who needs to be handcuffed, nor someone who's corrupting your daughter. You needn't be so angry with her. She doesn't know anything because I never told her anything because I didn't want her to get into trouble with you. See, if she knew the truth, you'd be torturing her just like you're torturing me now. I wasn't lying, Commander. I really need to use the toilet."

 

"Suppress the need," Ian said coolly. "I don't want to come with you." And she was only being annoying anyway, he thought.

 

"And I don't want to go with you when it's your turn, but I'm going to bloody well have to," Ciara fumed. "So humour me just once, will you?"

 

Meri continued cooking while they were gone, wondering about it. This would be funny if her father was not angry with her. And why on earth was he not taking Ciara to someone who could pick locks or someone with a saw?

 

"That brought back memories," Ian said cheerfully when he came back. "From when Meri was little and she couldn't go alone." He wondered why this seemed to depress Ciara, but he rather felt that if he went one way, she went the other. Not that he was truly cheerful, embarrassed was more like it.

 

"Please release me," she said in a low voice.

 

"Is it too much for you already?" he asked.

 

"It brings back memories for me too," she said with tears in her eyes. Meri had only had this boor to accompany her, poor little girl. She should just have run off, baby and all, and then it would have been her, who would have been much kinder and gentler and not barked commands.

 

Ian thought it was another ploy to escape and he was not affected, but Meri was. "What is it?" she asked.

 

"I can't tell you as long as I'm stuck to him and your aunt has the key. I couldn't tell you anything anyway," Ciara said after some deliberation. "Not anymore." Meri would resent her for waiting so long. It was better to keep it a secret forever.

 

"Not anymore?" Meri asked in a puzzled voice.

 

"No."

 

"When could you?"

 

"About eighteen years ago, but then you wouldn't have understood it."

 

"Then nothing has changed," Ian remarked. "We still don't understand you now." She revelled in mysteriousness.

 

"I never asked you to understand me," Ciara said with dignity.

 

"I'd like to know why you sold stolen objects, though." Ian pulled the list from his pocket. "For a total value of seventy-five florins over the past three months. Twenty-five a month is hardly --" he broke off, staring at her. Twenty-five a month was hardly enough to pay for the upkeep of a daughter, for example. It was what he received every month. It had to be a coincidence. And yet, twenty-five was so little that it was hardly the trouble to steal for. If one could steal, then why did one not steal more? Unless one could not steal in big quantities, such as from a temple. "Twenty-five a month? Financed by theft?" he looked appalled.

 

"Is that all you can think of?" Ciara snapped. Did it not show that she thought of her daughter all the time? All he could think of was how she came by her money while she was not hurting anyone by selling necklaces nobody ever used.

 

He tried to pull away from her, but the handcuffs prevented that. "Meri, I don't want to be attached to her. I have no words for...her," Ian said in a chilling voice.

 

"Do you have any idea how young I was?" Ciara retorted.

 

What did she mean? Ian wondered. How young she was? When? She could not mean that. She could not be her. He shook his head, allowing himself to take in her features for the first time. But it was her. It was mainly the eyes that called up a long-forgotten image -- the face had been fuller and younger then, a very young face. He did some arithmetic -- seventeen. Young, yes, but not too young to be incapable of knowing what she was doing. Had she known what she was doing? More memories flooded in, of her expression always laughing and full of innocent trust. He would never have guessed that she was capable of abandoning her baby and writing a note saying she was dead.

 

Meri stared from one to the other -- from incredulous anger to miserable irritation -- and wondered. "Have you met before?" she asked timidly.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

"Last night," Ian said in a precise voice. He had not met her before that. Not this woman.

 

"When I was seventeen," said Ciara. He had been nice then. What had happened? Had he become this way just because she had dumped the baby on him?

 

"But you don't remember, Dad?" Meri asked.

 

He did not want to remember, lest he should forgive her.

 

Meri did not understand his silence and switched to Ciara. "Were you friends?"

 

"Friends!" Ciara laughed painfully. "You could barely call it that! It was...an immature experiment. It would have ended anyway, now that I see Ian's lovely temper."

 

Ian did not really like to be called an immature experiment, although he quite agreed that she had been one. It would have ended, because it was a fling with an immature girl and  not because he had a lovely temper. What was a lovely temper? Who was she to mock something that was not even correct?

 

Meri decided she could not do anything but place the food on the table. What did this mean? That Ciara used to be her father's girlfriend when she was seventeen? One that he did not want to be reminded of? Why not? Ciara was nice. She had been very nice to Meri even if they had never met, although Ciara had never alluded to the fact that she had met her father before when she knew she had been speaking to Ian's daughter. That was strange too. Why should she be nice to the daughter of a man she disliked? Was this all her fault, Meri thought. She had deliberately told Ania about the key, because she had hoped her father would get acquainted with Ciara, but by the looks of it, they never wanted to get acquainted again.

 

Ian allowed Ciara the use of both her hands, meaning his left hand was useless to him. It was not much of a problem for the soup, but Meri cut his pancakes for him unasked.

 

Ciara again felt her tears well up. However annoying Ian was, he had raised his daughter so well that she liked him. "Don't you know she would have been killed because she was a gift from the moon to the earth?" And she had not wanted to say that. It would sound pathetic, as if she was trying to excuse her behaviour.

 

"That's ridiculous," Ian said immediately.

 

Meri did not know whom they were talking about and she was surprised that he did. "Who would have been killed?"

 

"Nobody," said Ian.

 

"You," said Ciara.

 

"Me?"

 

"Don't make up pathetic stories," Ian said dismissively. "I've never heard of such laws."

 

"Not anymore. I had that one changed."

 

Meri stopped cutting Ian's pancakes and stared at Ciara with wide eyes. What did she mean? Had there been laws that would have had her killed? Why?

 

"Why didn't your predecessor do that?" Ian asked.

 

"Because she didn't know I was pregnant, did she?" Ciara snapped. "She had no reason to assume that any of her successors would be so stupid as to fall into the trap. We were specifically chosen for our abilities to learn. But they didn't expect us to learn that. I don't think you'd recall, but I succeeded Ishala when I was six months pregnant and I didn't even know it."

 

"How can you  not know that?" Ian asked sarcastically. All too clearly to his liking he remembered that he had gone to see the new priestess once and that he had not found her graceful. No wonder that she had not been graceful, but rather voluminous. He apologised silently.

 

"Because nobody ever told me what it looked like! Ishala didn't notice until I became too fat. And don't you act all knowing and wise now, because you should have known what you were getting me in to at the time! So either you were just as ignorant as me, or you didn't care if and where you reproduced yourself. What would you prefer, Commander?"

 

"Would someone care to tell me how I am connected to all this?" Meri asked desperately. Her suspicions were growing, but she dared not give into them.

 

"You are not connected," Ian said gruffly. "Not anymore." If she was, then he would be too and that was something he did not want. "May I have another pancake?"

 

Ciara had spouted her grievances and she was feeling much better now, not being a person who dwelled on misery for too long. "Give my daughter time to eat a pancake herself," she commented. "She doesn't have time to eat if she has to cut your food."

 

"Your daughter?"

 

"Yes, my daughter."

 

"Why are you interfering?"

 

"Because she's my daughter. I just said so," Ciara said patiently.

 

"You never raised her. You have no right to call her your daughter," Ian said, but she had a point -- about Meri's pancakes, not about Meri being her daughter. He should let Meri eat.

 

"I know I can't buy the right," she agreed. "However, then you should have returned the money to me. Twenty-five a month for over eighteen years is quite a sum of money. I could have used that for other purposes. It should at least give me the right to tell you that you should let her eat. It's not as if I'm some random woman. And I'm the High Priestess. Not that that would do you any good at a meal, unless you are of a more gullible nature, but that should give me some authority, shouldn't it?"

 

They both looked at Meri and her pancake. "Stop quibbling!" she cried. "Don't you realise you're taking away my appetite with all those revelations? I can't even eat!"

 

"I'm sorry. It's not my fault," Ian apologised.

 

"It is! You never told me who my mother was."

 

"I didn't know!"

 

Meri opened her mouth wide. "That is the most stupid thing I ever heard!"

 

"Now you hear it from someone else," Ciara gestured.

 

"She lied to me," Ian protested. "She said her name was Meri and that she wasn't in town for very long." He did not like it one bit that Meri seemed to take over Ciara's impertinence.

 

"You could at least have told me the lie!" Meri said. "And admitted that you were not interested in your girlfriends' last names. I wonder how you could even have remembered which one it had been!"

 

"Meri! You are talking to your father!" Ian bellowed. She never talked to him in that manner. It was all Ciara's fault. He wished he had dropped the case of the stolen necklace right at the beginning when she had refused to see him. He should have been wise and followed his intuition.

 

"I'm only returning the same amount of respect you've shown me," she spat out and left the kitchen.

 

"She's right," Ciara sang. "What a girl."

 

"Don't you take any credit for that," he snapped.

 

"Well,  you obviously won't!" Ciara pointed out to him. "You don't seem to appreciate your daughter. At least I do, even if you say I don't have the right. It follows that if you don't appreciate her behaviour, you don't think she got it from you, so who else but me should she have got it from?" She loved doing that and he was the perfect partner for it.

 

"Has anyone ever told you that you are bloody annoying?"

 

"Your face never gets enough of telling me. I wonder if your facial muscles remember how to relax. Over-tension is never good, you know. Wearing the same expression all the time also gives you wrinkles."

 

Ian wished he could open the handcuffs and he poked into the lock with his fork. He did not want to talk to her, he did not even want to be close to her, but he was forced to be and he was forced to listen to her annoying remarks because she did not seem capable of shutting her mouth. "I wonder if your jaws remember what it's like not to move."

 

"I don't think a fork is going to work," Ciara said helpfully. She was not impressed. If he ever attended the moon services he would know that she never spoke when she was doing them. Of course she was silent at times. And when she slept. Ian was not in good form, was he? He was barely a match for her. She hoped he would improve soon.

 

Ian paused. "Would you just...shut up!" He gave up when it did not work with the fork and he attempted to roll up another pancake to eat. It would not work with one hand.

 

"Do you want to borrow your hand to hold your cutlery?" Ciara asked. "Aren't I generous? You may." She stretched out the hand that was cuffed to his. "Two for the price of one."

 

He could not help but notice that she had beautiful hands. "No, thanks. I'll eat with my right hand." He rested his left hand on the table, forcing her right hand to do the same. He rolled up his pancake with his fingers, very messily getting jam all over them, and then brought it to his mouth.

 

"You can't get away from my hand," she informed him. "There's a metal bracelet binding it to yours, but if the problem is that it sometimes accidentally touches yours, I'll tell it to behave. Believe me when I say I enjoy it just as much as you do." She should have used another word there instead of enjoy. Something a little more negative -- once attracted, always attracted did not hold, she told herself.

 

"Please put something in that mouth of yours," Ian said wearily. "To stop those inanities from coming out."

 

It was actually not a bad idea to eat a little more. Ciara was rather hungry. While she was eating, she wondered where Meri had run off to. The poor girl would not know what to think of all this. She should have a real conversation with Meri some time, without the disturbing presence of Ian, for there was no doubt that he was > very disturbing, glaring, scowling, brooding, frowning, continually trying to find new ways to express disgust with his face. She snickered at that thought. What was he trying to do? She was a moon priestess, so she was only technically a woman and she could judge women in a detached manner. He would think she knew nothing, being locked up in the temple all the time, but an infidel -- she snickered again -- such as him would not know that she had consultations and that people came to tell her things. There were lots of silly women in this town, she could say that much. Lots of silly women fancied him because he was charming. Now that she had got a taste of the famous Ian-charm she began to doubt her femininity.

 

But there was no doubt at all that she was feminine, if the new arrival's expression was anything to go by. A tall, skinny woman had come in and she was eyeing Ciara with unveiled hostility, clearly not liking the fact that she found Ian with another woman.

 

Ciara was just appraising her curiously when a second woman entered, exhibiting much the same reaction upon seeing Ian with two other women.

 

Two more followed soon after, but they merely looked curious. She bore a strong resemblance to Ian and Ciara had to admit in surprise that Aunt Ania was probably truly Ian's sister, if this was Ania. The other woman was Fanni, whom she had met the night before, not that Fanni would recognise her now.

 

They all stared at her and each other, with various degrees of jealousy and curiosity. Ciara was thrilled. Did all these silly women have a claim on Ian? What a great way to annoy him. "The fight for Ian may now begin," she declared. "I'll unlock the handcuffs to release him and hand him over to whichever of you he belongs, if you support your claim with convincing arguments."

 

Ian glared at her, but since he had been doing so all the time, he could not possibly increase his glare enough to impress her. He thought things were already at their worst, but then Vyzona had entered, and then Naki, and then Ania and Fanni. There was no end to it and there was not much he could do. He was stuck in a kitchen with five women who bore deep grudges against at least half of the others and he was physically linked to one of the worst of them, with no way of escaping their vicious tongues and worse, any cooking utensils they might employ if feelings started running high, which they undoubtedly would.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

"Nothing more convincing than handcuffs, hmm?" said Ania. So this was Ciara. Her face seemed to be all eyes, even though they were not exceptionally large. The rest of it was not that remarkable, although she had a little upturned nose like Meri. She did not know Ciara, but she had to like her for bringing this blow to Vyzona and Naki, both of whom she disliked.

 

"Anyone is better than her," Ian said from the bottom of his heart. "I don't care which one you give me to." As long as he was released. Why did Ania not rescue him? She had the key, Meri had said. He looked at his sister pleadingly, but she ignored him.

 

Naki looked disgusted upon seeing the combination of handcuffs, jam, Ian and a woman in control. The woman had probably been feeding him pancakes as well. That was quite an unexpected side of Ian and she was not sure she liked it.

 

Vyzona was jealous. "Is that what low tricks one must resort to in order to snare you, Ian? Use handcuffs?" She always disapproved heavily of methods that were more successful than her own and of women who obtained that what she could not get.

 

"Nonono," said Ciara. "I'm auctioning him. This is your chance to catch Commander Ian. Be convincing in your argumentation."

 

"Shall I call reinforcements, sir?" asked Fanni. If this was his insane wife, she might be dangerous, like the officer at headquarters had said. She was obviously insane, trying to auction him. Perhaps they should avoid aggravating her. It might make her dangerous.

 

Ania looked at Ian and then at the two jealous women. How many women had he been carrying on with at once? Sometimes her brother really annoyed her with his careless arrogance. It served him right to be handcuffed to Ciara. Maybe she could put him in his place, because he sorely needed that and nobody else seemed to be able to do it. "Fanni, unless you want to bid for Ian, which I suggest you don't, I say we leave Ian to clean up his own amorous mess."

 

"Well," said Fanni, giving Ian and Ciara a last doubtful glance. "Are you sure she's not dangerous?" She supposed Ania would know Ian's wife, as Ian's sister.

 

"He's stronger, he's taller and he's a commander," Ania shrugged. "Not a helpless little boy. If he can't handle her, we can't either." She took Fanni into another room.

 

Ian was left with the three women, without the possibility of escaping them. If Ania had unlocked the handcuffs, he would have gone with anyone and then abandoned her, but Ania's departure made an unlocking of the handcuffs highly improbable within the next few minutes, perhaps even within the next hour.

 

Ciara still looked cheerful. "Any takers?" she inquired. "Mind you, if you don't take him, I'm going to sacrifice him to the moon."

 

"I beg your pardon?" Vyzona asked.

 

"He's shown himself to be disrespectful of the moon tradition and it's my duty to mend his ways," Ciara declared. "I handcuffed him so he wouldn't run off. My name is Ciara, High Priestess."

 

"Ian, is she...alright?" Naki asked. "Is she Ciara?" She looked at Ciara more respectfully, just in case it was true.

 

"Yes," Ian replied through clenched teeth.

 

"One of you may save him," Ciara offered. "But he's already been fed ritual pancakes. Pancakes are a symbol of the moon, you see. They're both round. He's eaten the moon and now the moon will eat him."

 

"You ate pancakes too," Ian said accusingly, not sure how to deal with this nonsense. He could see Vyzona and Naki were believing all of it. How could they? They sunk lower in his esteem and he was glad that they had never been very high.

 

"The moon and I are one," Ciara explained patiently, as if she were speaking to a small child. "We're married. I can eat as many pancakes as I like. They have a different meaning for me."

 

"Meri made the pancakes. They have nothing to do with the moon."

 

"I could have told her to do that," she pointed out to him. She had not, but that was beside the point. He could not check that at this moment, nor could the two women. "My husband is angry," she said to Naki and Vyzona. "He doesn't like other men touching me. They've got to pay."

 

"Are you going to kill him?" Naki asked in alarm.

 

"Nooo," Ciara smiled benignly. "Only some of him. It will make him pretty useless," she shrugged. "But well...that's his own fault."

 

They obviously believed her, because they looked at her respectfully, not sure what her powers were. Maybe she could put curses on them or have them sacrificed as well. They were not entirely certain of what she would be doing to Ian either, but a useless Ian was not something they wanted. Almost simultaneously they decided to leave, claiming that they had something else to do.

 

"Bright girl," Ian commented sarcastically when they found themselves alone. He was not impressed by Ciara's talk about sacrifices, even if the women had bought it all. The only thing he could thank her for was that she had got rid of his two admirers. "You've just done all you could to keep us bound together. You're really clever for someone who wishes to escape, aren't you?"

 

She knew he was right, but she did not want to say so. "I thought it was your intention to question me. You can't do that if I run away."

 

"I've heard all I wanted to hear. You practically confessed. You're a thief."

 

"I'm a concerned mother." Ciara suspected he was not going to believe that and she took another pancake when he made disgusted sounds. "I could invent a whole story about pancakes being moon symbols, but you're not going to believe me, are you? You wouldn't believe you've got to be sacrificed because you laid your hands on me?"

 

"Not for one second."

 

"Good, good -- I can't believe I'm saying that!" Ciara shuddered. She finished her pancake in silence, contemplating her situation. This was quite a messy fix she had got herself in. How was she ever going to get free? She had a ceremony to run tonight.

 

Ian waited for Ania to return, but she did not. She must really be leaving him here, he thought in surprise and annoyance. There was no way he could go back to work anymore, not after all this time of being stuck to Ciara. There was no way he could go there with Ciara handcuffed to him. All the officers would know somehow and they would gossip like mad, unjustified but inevitable. It was no use getting upset about it. He pulled Ciara with him to his living room where he had some things he could work on. Meri was not there. She seemed to be making herself invisible.

 

Ciara ignored the pile of books he gave her to keep her occupied and was more interested in what he was doing, reading reports. She was actually getting used to the handcuffs, no longer protesting or pulling back when his hand moved, but giving in so it would not hurt. And he did the same. He never said anything when she needed her hand. It all went rather civilised, she thought in amazement.

 

When Ciara was nearly asleep, resting her head on her free arm, Ian insisted on going to Meri's room. Meri was there, but she refused to talk to either of them, shutting the door in their faces. "Not now," Ciara told him when he wanted to try again. "Tomorrow. She'll come to you." She hoped that was true.

 

A search for his sister yielded no results. She had taken the key and made herself scarce. Ian flung himself on his bed in despair. "What am I going to do with you?"

 

Ciara had been forced to fling herself on the bed as well, following him. She did not know what he was going to do with her, so she could not give him an answer. He could not even take her to the temple, because the service would already have started. "I missed the moon service."

 

"Now what?"

 

"Now nothing. I didn't do it." She looked around herself. The room was like the hall, bare except for a few plants. Where did he keep his belongings? Or this was not his room at all.

 

"Will the world now come to an end?" he mocked.

 

"No. Don't take things so seriously. I predict the weather. That's all you should believe in." Ciara did not know why she told him that. She was not supposed to do that, but he was sceptic anyway.

 

Ania appeared suddenly. She dangled the key in front of her. "I've come to release you." She had spent far too long talking to her niece and she had suddenly realised the time. Her brother would really be upset if she forced him to spend the night with a handcuffed woman, whatever he had been up to with her in the past.

 

"Finally! What took you so long?" Ian held out his left wrist angrily and Ania unlocked the handcuffs. While he was trying to get her to answer, Ciara ran off with a sudden swift movement. "Damn!" he cried. "There she goes!"

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Meri heard running footsteps and then her father's outcry and she deduced that Ciara had run off. She knew Ania had gone over with the key. It was not difficult to predict where Ciara would go -- the temple. She would live there. Meri waited at the window, looking out, but she did not see Ciara pass. That was odd, because that meant Ciara did not leave through the front gate and there was really no other way to leave unless she wished to take a long detour through the maze of small alleys at the back of the houses in the neighbourhood where one should really know the way to get out of it at the appropriate point.

 

She climbed out of her window and walked around the house in curiosity. Ciara was not in sight and Meri sat down in disappointment. She wanted to talk to Ciara, even though she did not know where to start. Perhaps if Ciara saw her, she would come over and start explaining all by herself. Daylight was fading slowly and the last red-orange-yellow bits of it reflected off the windows onto the terrace. It made the garden beyond a bit of a spooky place, dark and shadowy, but Meri was not afraid. This was her home. There would not be any evil things lurking among the bushes and plants. She liked to sit here in the fading light, hearing more and more animal sounds. There was even a comfortable chair especially for her. Fortunately it had not been raining lately, otherwise it would have felt wet or damp.

 

Now especially she wanted to sit here, to think. She had a lot to think about and she reached into her room to pull out her blanket because it was getting chillier. Wrapped in the blanket, she sat down in the chair. Ciara had said she was her mother and her father had not denied it. There seemed to have been something that they both knew and which had told him that it was true. He had never wanted to speak about her mother and now he said that was because he did not know anything about her. Well, he certainly seemed not to have known that it was Ciara, so maybe he had not lied. She did not understand how he had not known. Or why he should have lied in case he had known. Either thought was bad enough to make her cry, because it meant that one of her parents had not wanted her to know.

 

Meri wiped her eyes on the blanket and thought about what Ciara had said. The baby would have been killed -- she would have been killed. Was that why she had not told anyone? She could at least have told Ian. He would have kept quiet about it. He would have. Maybe Ciara had not known that. Meri supposed that they had not known each other very well. Suddenly she heard footsteps and her father looked down on her.

 

Ian saw a tiny glimmer under her eyes and guessed she had been crying. He lifted her out of the chair and sat in it himself, with Meri in his lap. From her shaking body he knew she was crying again, but he let her. He had been at fault and he did not know how he could put it right. What was she thinking of him now? At least she was not pushing him away. That was a good thing, but he did not know if it might not be followed by reproaches and angry words. If so, he had deserved it. It would be easy to shift all the blame away from himself and onto Ciara, but he did not want that. If he had been at fault, she had been too, but not just her. "I'm sorry," he whispered, well aware that this would accomplish very little.

 

"For what?" Meri said in a muffled, sniffling voice.

 

"For not telling you the truth."

 

"You said you didn't know the truth," she raised her head accusingly.

 

"For not telling you that I had actually no idea. The truth is that I had no idea."

 

She lowered her head again.

 

"How do you think it feels, not to know? Don't you think I felt very stupid?" he asked in a low voice. "How could that have happened to me? She never told me much about herself and then suddenly she disappeared. Life went on and then all of a sudden we found a baby with a note saying it's mine and that she's called Meri and that the mother was dead. She had told me  her name was Meri, so I guessed it had been her. Should I have put the baby in an orphanage? I couldn't have done that -- the note said it was mine and my mother said it was the spitting image of me when I was a baby," Ian chuckled wryly. "I can't remember. So I raised you, relying on the note that you were really my daughter. After a certain period of time it didn't matter anymore if you were really mine or not. You were mine, you see?"

 

"Yes," Meri said simply. She saw. He was her father, real or not. "Just like you are my father."

 

"Still?" Ian barely dared to ask.

 

"Yes, of course, but I can be upset with you, can't I?"

 

He was relieved by that. She could be upset with him as heavily as she liked, as long as it passed. "Sure."

 

"How could you never have asked her last name or anything?" Meri asked.

 

Ian sounded embarrassed. "I don't know. Maybe she always avoided the question. I can't remember."

 

"Why would she -- because she was going to be a High Priestess, probably," Meri guessed. "Why would she be fooling around with you, though?"

 

Ian had not asked himself that question yet and he looked surprised. "Er...well, I suppose because we had the age?"

 

Meri shook her head. "I have the age -- she was younger than I am now -- and I don't do that."

 

He was glad to hear it. "Maybe she was different."

 

"In that case she wouldn't have consented to become a High Priestess. If I were a boy-crazy flirt, do you really think I'd devote my life to the moon?" It sounded highly unlikely to Meri, but whether this signified that Ciara had been in love with her father was a completely different thing.

 

The way she put it, it indeed sounded improbable, but he did not want to draw any conclusions about Ciara's actions or motivations. "We can't know if she doesn't tell us and she ran away."

 

"Do you want to talk to her?" Meri honestly did not know if that was possible. Earlier on talking had not quite worked out, to put it mildly.

 

"I want her to talk to you," he evasively answered her question with one of his own. Ciara should explain herself to Meri. She owed her daughter that much. He could live with lies, but how could Ciara not tell Meri the truth? Meri, his little sunshine with her sweet and innocent face? Ciara had to feel repentant if she saw that. She would feel guilty for what she had done, for what she had given up. How could she have given up her child? Although she would claim that she had saved it by saving it from death. If that were true at all, he thought bitterly.

 

"So she can tell me, you mean?"

 

"Yes." Ian hesitated. What if she told Meri quite plainly that she had not been wanted, that she had not cared for the baby? That would crush Meri completely. "Or maybe not. I don't want her to hurt you."

 

"She won't hurt me." It was only a feeling Meri had and she tried to justify it by thinking. Ciara had sought the acquaintance most, not her. Ciara could have cut it short, pushed her away and not taken her for cakes. But she had not done that. She would not hurt her.

 

"She'll hurt me twice as hard if she hurts you."

 

"She won't hurt me."

 

"She's not going to say -- never mind." Ciara was not going to say she loved Meri, or something like that. How could she? Meri was getting rather heavy and Ian pushed her off his lap so she could site beside him.

 

"Why did you let her run away?" Meri asked. She had thought her father would have gone after Ciara, to arrest her or to question her.

 

"I was too -- to be truthful," he paused. "She drives me wild." He regretted that choice of words as soon as he had spoken. It would give the wrong impression. But it was rather true.

 

"Wild?" Meri spoke with something like a laugh for the first time. Her father was not someone who could easily be driven wild or who would easily use those words. It sounded strange enough to be amused and she knew he would not start hitting people, so it had to be an interesting way of being wild. "With what?"

 

"With something I'd rather not find out," he said decisively. He could not define it and he did not want to either. "I was fed up with her. I might have done something to her." Yelled at her, lost his temper, said something stupid -- he might have done all of that.

 

 


Ciara had initially run away, but she had realised she had nowhere to go and nothing to do. All her unresolved business was there, but she could not resolve it. She had explained herself, but Ian had not believed her. What else could she do? She felt that something ought to be done and she had gone to get Ishala. He would have to believe Ishala.

 

They returned to find that Meri had lit a few candles in coloured glasses, providing some more light on the terrace than just the moonlight. She had left when Meri had just come out of her window and now Ian was there too. Ciara braved herself. Well, that was good. It was predominantly Ian they had to convince, anyway. Ishala had only needed a little incoherent report and she had come.

 

Ian and Meri stared at them in surprise, at first unable to discern who they were. Ishala stepped forward. "I'm Ciara's mother, Ishala."

 

"Ishala? But Ishala was..." Ian looked puzzled. "And I was told she's dead." But she was obviously alive.

 

"I'm not dead. I'm as good as dead, because I'm no longer a priestess, but there's a difference. Ciarie told me you don't believe her. Don't blame Ciarie, blame me." She looked at Ian and Meri, as much as that was possible by the light of the candles. She knew Ian by sight, naturally, but not Meri, and she studied her with interest. Ciarie's nose, that struck her immediately, but she looked a lot like her father. And they looked as if they were on good terms. That was good. She would not have wanted Ciara to cause dissent.

 

Ciara herself looked sheepish. She was a little embarrassed at having to call her mother, but it really was the only way and now her mother was calling her Ciarie too, doing very little for the respect the others would have for her person. She sat down on the ground, arms around her knees and stared alternately at Meri and Ian.

 

"I think you should tell me the truth," said Ian. Ciarie kept her mouth shut, what a surprise. He was still not over the shock of meeting Ishala.

 

"From one parent to another," said Ishala. "Your daughter is roughly the same age mine was. I'll start at the beginning -- your beginning, not ours, because we'd been struggling with the problem for a while longer. What could I do? I hadn't expected her to do something like that and I was unprepared. There was no time to change the rules. Other people would see to it that they were carried out. I'd almost lost my Ciarie myself, but a compassionate soul had dropped her at the orphanage, where I found her when she was ten, but that compassionate soul was dead and people at that time weren't very compassionate. They were devout and sticklers for the rules. You must understand that it takes twenty years to change the rules, to prevent them from being changed on a whim, but it had only been under consideration for seventeen...I saw no other way out that to take the baby to you."

 

"And you told me she was dead?"

 

"You would have come to look for her if I'd told you who the mother was," Ishala said quietly. "That would have been dangerous."

 

"You could have confided in me," he protested.

 

"I didn't know you. I had to rely on the opinion of a seventeen-year old. I didn't know if I could trust Ciara's opinion, but I'd done some asking around and I heard your sister was pregnant with her fourth child. If anything, she would be able to help you. Ciara said you'd be good..."

 

Ciara hid her face behind her hands. This was painful.  No more of what I said, please...

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Ian suddenly disappeared and returned with a box he handed to Ciara without saying anything. She knew what the envelopes in it contained. There was no need to open them, because she was quite familiar with them. It felt as if he had slapped her in the face. He wanted nothing to do with her. He did not want to acknowledge her as Meri's mother. Fine. She could do the same. Ciara unfastened the band around her ankle, leaving a thin strip of untanned skin, and threw the band in his lap. She gave Meri the box and stormed away.

Ian picked up the ankle bracelet and studied it. After a few seconds he remembered it and he dropped it in shock. He had given this to Ciara. She kept it? She had not just put it on today -- he had seen the line on her ankle where she had not tanned. That had not been the result of one day. What did it mean to know that she had kept it all those years?

Meri sat looking through the envelopes. She was surprised to see that they all contained money. In her father's handwriting they had all been marked with something she defined as the year and the month, starting the month after she was born. It had to do with her then. Why had her father given this to Ciara? Or had Ciara been the one who had given it to him in the first place? To pay for her? That would explain why Ciara had refused it and given it to her. Her father did not want it, her mother did not want it -- Meri was a very practical person and decided she would take the money if nobody else did. It seemed to belong to her anyway.

Ian was still not over the shock of receiving the ankle bracelet. Ishala had not known about it, but she sensed it meant something to him. Ciara was not easily angered and it was strange that she had run away. Something must be touching her very deeply. And him. He was proud, that was very obvious. She had seen the box contained money and she knew it had been the money that she had delivered on Ciara's behalf. He did not want the money. Why not? Did he blame Ciara for abandoning first him and then Meri? He should not blame Ciara. "It was not Ciara's choice to stop seeing you."

Ian stopped turning the band between his fingers. "Yours?"

"Yes."

That did not change anything, he told himself. He did not care. It would not have lasted -- she had said so too. He could imagine why Ishala had ordered Ciara to stop seeing him. Ciara had to succeed her. He could not remember the exact date when he and Ciara -- when he and Ciara -- when he and Ciara -- when he and Ciara -- had met, he finally decided. The rest would be shortly after that. Then he realised he could reckon back from Meri's birthday. It would have been May. And Ciara had followed Ishala in June. So that was why she had stopped coming. It had not grieved him deeply, but yet he had been foolish enough to buy her this? He dangled the bracelet and studied it.

Her mother had been sending her money, Meri thought, and it cheered her. It made her doubt her father again, for he had said that he had always believed that her mother was dead. How could a dead person send money? That was impossible. If her father had been superstitious, she would have doubted him less, but he of all people would suspect payments from dead people. So either he had known Ciara was not dead or he...had been puzzled. Meri could not come up with anything else and decided on puzzlement.

She wished he had once given Ciara that bracelet. That would mean something. It was likely that it was the case, because Ciara had given it back angrily and he was more than a little disconcerted.

Ishala studied Ian too. No matter how obstinate he looked now, he must have been a lot easier in his youth. He had a magnificent scowl, something he probably did not even know, but that he should know if he had all those women after him, as Ciara had told her. Would Ciara be positively impressed by scowling? Ishala had no idea. It was not something a priestess should talk about and consequently Ciara never did, except to laugh at some people. Ciara was wiser than all those other women and yet Ishala could not help interpreting Ciara's tone as not quite disinterested when Ciara had rambled about the other women.


Ian appeared at work normally the next day. Some of his subordinates -- or rather, all of them, for gossiping went fast -- were giving him curious glances, because they had heard of his mad dash after his insane wife. However, here the Commander was and quite unscathed, a bit of a scowl and rings around the eyes, but no nail marks in sight. Those might be under his clothing, everyone realised, and the chances of that were discussed seriously around the coffee tables.

"Commander..." said Fanni. She was hardly ever afraid of him. There was no need to. He was never unreasonable.

"Yes, Fanni?"

"Will you be continuing the necklace-case?" This was by far the most dangerous comment she had ever made. Now she would see if the rumours were true, that the Commander could strike people dead with his eyes if they went too far.

"No."

"Why not, sir?" Fanni cursed herself. Do you want to die? Do continue! He had not looked at her just now, but after this question he might.

"Because I solved it."

It was nothing but a rumour. He had looked at her and she was still alive. Fanni felt the need to laugh in relief. "How?"

"It was all a misunderstanding."

"What happened to...?"

He knew what she was getting at and which person she was reluctant to refer to -- last night's situation with Ciara. "My sister was kind enough to unlock us," he said cynically. "After she had enjoyed herself thoroughly, no doubt."

He had looked at her again and still she was not dead. It would not happen anymore, Fanni knew. "Your sister had the key?" she asked incredulously. Ania had never told her that. Why would Ania have had the key?

"Yes."

They were interrupted by a young officer. "There's a lady to see you, Commander."

"I'm not seeing any ladies today, Pervo," Ian decided. He did not care who it was. He did not know of any that he particularly wanted to see. In fact, he could only come up with names of ladies that he particularly wanted to avoid.

"I shall tell her, Commander." Pervo coughed. "She was afraid that she would have to queue."

"She may queue for the exit." Ian knew there could only be one person who would dare to talk about queuing. What was she doing here? He was interested, but he did not want to know. Life used to be simple, but now she was providing with all such kinds of dilemmas. "Let her fly to the moon."

"She just might, Commander," Pervo said in shock. The lady had in fact said much more, but he was not sure how to relay this to his superior, since he was not sure if the lady was the High Priestess or Ian's insane wife pretending to be the High Priestess. He did not see why the real High Priestess would visit Ian, since she never had and she always sent deputies and temple clerks. "S-S-She threatened to sacrifice you."

"To what?" Ian had heard that nonsense before and he was very far from being impressed. He was not even impressed by her creativity.

"To the moon, sir. I have to say that she looks a bit odd, with facial paint and all." He did not want to say very odd, in case it was the Commander's wife.

Definitely Ciara, with the paint. Ian sighed.

"Some mates say she's your wife, sir," Fanni interjected cautiously. "Your insane wife." She had witnessed some of the commotion just before she had come up.

Well, dammit! Ian scowled again. How had they ever come up with that bizarre idea? Never on his life! "And what does she say?"

"She doesn't know that, of course. She says she's the High Priestess." Fanni thought that the qualification insane perhaps suited the priestess better than the wife. Ciara was undeniably odd. "You cannot refuse to see the High Priestess," she reminded him, knowing it was really the High Priestess and not a delusional wife, as Pervo thought.

Ian rolled his eyes. Could they not understand that the last thing he wanted was to see Ciara? No, they could not, he thought in resignation. "She must be coming to collect her cloak," he said, hoping that was it and that she would not have come to bother him about Meri.

"She didn't say, Commander," said Pervo. "May I escort her up?"

"No need to escort her, Pervo. If she can find her way out unescorted, she can also find her way in and she might bewitch you on the way."

"I heard that, Ian," Ciara entered. "Is it still a sore point with you, sweetheart? I got rather sick of explaining to the party downstairs that I'm not your insane wife. Doesn't my position command any respect anymore? I'm in full regalia. I'd have expected some more reverence." She was wearing a pink cloak this time, but again with the heavy black paint in an intricate pattern around her eyes and on her forehead.

Ian did not like to be called sweetheart and decided he would get her back. "I'm sorry," he explained to Pervo, a little embarrassed. "She fell on her head once and it never came right."

Ciara looked startled and she saw that Pervo believed it. "But I'm Ciara!" she protested. Oh, he was a vile creature for doing this. She could kill him, but she would hit him first.

"Yes, darling," Ian soothed, placing his arm around her. "Of course you are. Now let's go home. Did you forget to take your pills this morning?"

"Don't touch me!" Ciara screamed, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. "I'm Ciara!" Fanni knew. Fanni could not be believing him and his fabricated stories about her pills.

"You've got to humour her," Ian explained to a bewildered Fanni and a very interested Pervo. "Otherwise she gets out of hand."

"Fanni? You know!" Ciara tried.

"Umm..." Fanni dared not go against Ian, who was suddenly able to kill with his eyes. And she did not want to interfere either. This was something between the two of them and they should sort it out together. Who said there was no wife? She did not think so, but she could not be certain.

Ian was strong and he led Ciara out. She protested heavily, screaming, kicking and hitting, but he continued unperturbed. It drew a lot of attention and everyone came to look. They all thought she was his insane wife and he saw their looks of pity. Actually he was glad that Ciara behaved as though she were insane. It made it much easier for him.

 

© 2000 Copyright held by the author.

 

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